Spotting the International Space Station

Credit: NASA/Roscosmos

Over the next week there are numerous opportunities to spot the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes over the UK.

The ISS is a large spacecraft that is in orbit around the Earth at an altitude of roughly 250 miles travelling at 17,500 mph. The ISS is a collaborative effort between several nations. It serves as a home for astronauts and cosmonauts while performing as a science laboratory.

From today until Saturday 4th April, we in the UK have the opportunity to see the ISS pass overhead, with quite a few child friendly timings.

From earth the space station looks like an aeroplane or a very bright star moving across the sky, except it doesn’t have flashing lights or change direction. It will also be moving considerably faster than a typical aeroplane (aeroplanes generally fly at about 600 miles (965 km) per hour; the space station flies at 17,500 miles (28,000 km) per hour).

This table gives an example of the viewing times from Birmingham, other parts of the UK will be similar but you can find the exact times for your location here:

DateVisibleMax HeightAppearsDisappears
Fri Mar 27, 7:42 PM4 min78°27° above W18° above E
Fri Mar 27, 9:17 PM2 min25°10° above W25° above W
Sat Mar 28, 8:30 PM3 min61°18° above W56° above SSE
Sun Mar 29, 8:44 PM4 min71°33° above W18° above ESE
Sun Mar 29, 10:19 PM1 min21°11° above W21° above WSW
Mon Mar 30, 9:32 PM3 min38°14° above W36° above S
Tue Mar 31, 8:46 PM4 min49°25° above W16° above SE
Tue Mar 31, 10:22 PM< 1 min13°11° above WSW13° above WSW
Wed Apr 1, 9:34 PM3 min21°10° above W19° above S
Thu Apr 2, 8:48 PM4 min29°18° above WSW12° above SSE
Fri Apr 3, 9:38 PM1 min10°10° above SW10° above SSW
Sat Apr 4, 8:50 PM4 min15°10° above WSW10° above S

The diagram below helps to explain where in the sky to look to see the ISS:

You can find some great videos provided by NASA (and the other space agencies involved) on YouTube, these will help provide background information and some context for children about the ISS and what they are seeing.

 Tour of Orbital Laboratory onboard the ISS